Read the manualIt might sound obvious, but lots of us forget about our manuals. Yet they contain all the information you need as to how to properly maintain your car, and when to perform certain maintenance tasks. It also shows you what all the various warning lights mean, and these indicators can help you recognise any issues that arise. From check-engine lights to brake, coolant and oil warnings, you can figure out what you’re able to deal with yourself and when you need professional help.
Top up your fluidsThere are many fluids your car needs, and it’s important to check these regularly and top them up as required. This should be done for you when you take your car in for service, but keeping an eye on them yourself will help your car run smoother for longer. The six main fluids you need to check are:
Engine oilThe components in your car’s engine spin round thousands of times every minute, and engine oil keeps them all properly lubricated. This makes it one of the most important fluids in your car. Most cars have a dipstick with indicators on it that tell you where the oil level should be. All you have to do is wipe the stick clean with a cloth or paper towel, dip it back in and take it out again. If the oil level’s below where it should be on the indicator, remove the oil cap that’s usually next to the dipstick, and top it up using the right grade of oil - your manual will tell you what this is.
CoolantAlso known as antifreeze, coolant is very important as it prevents your engine from overheating. The fluid works by absorbing the heat your engine produces, and dissipating it through the radiator. If the level gets too low, your engine can overheat and become seriously damaged. It’s really easy to check the level visually, as the coolant’s reservoir will have an indicator showing you the minimum and maximum levels. If you need to top it up, it’s vital that you allow your engine to completely cool first, as hot, pressurised coolant can spurt out and burn you. Check your manual for which coolant to use, and mix it 50/50 with water when topping up.
Brake fluidModern cars have hydraulic brakes, with fluid connecting them to your pedal. If there isn’t enough fluid, you might be able to feel that your brakes are a little spongy, but you can also check the reservoir under your bonnet for the level. There’ll probably be an indicator on the reservoir, but if not the fluid should come to within about half an inch of the cap. When you’re taking care of your brake fluid, make sure nothing else gets into the reservoir, as even a tiny bit of dirt can affect the performance of your brakes.
Power steering fluidSome modern cars have electric power steering, but lots of cars use a hydraulic system. To check the level of fluid, there’ll either be a marking on the reservoir, or a dipstick you can use in the same way as when you check your oil. If it needs topping up, find out which fluid your car requires in your manual, as using the wrong one will damage your steering. If you find that you keep on having to fill up your power steering fluid, there might be a leak that you need to address.
Clutch fluidIf you drive an automatic, you don’t need to worry about clutch fluid. But if you have a manual, there should be a clutch fluid reservoir somewhere near the one for your brake fluid. It might be the case that your brake fluid’s suitable to use as clutch fluid too, but either way, all you have to do is remove the cap and top up the level so it sits between the markers on the reservoir.
Windscreen washer fluidRunning out of screen wash might not hurt your car in a mechanical sense, but doing so could compromise your safety behind the wheel. Being able to see clearly through your windscreen is obviously vital, but checking the level of your screen wash isn’t quite so obvious. Typically, the only way to know you’ve run out is when nothing comes out of the nozzles, as you can only see the reservoir’s cap. You can buy ready-mixed or concentrated screen wash, which you simply pour in until the bottle runs out or the level reaches the cap. If you have concentrated wash, read the bottle to see how much to mix with water at different times of year, as you’ll need more concentrate in winter to prevent freezing.
Look after your windscreenSpeaking of windscreens, they’re a crucial part of your car’s structure and safety, as well as your view out to the road, and they need maintaining in a number of ways. Firstly, whether a huge lorry comes hurtling past in the other direction, or you have to drive along a road that’s been repaired, chips can be unavoidable. While inconvenient, it’s best to deal with them as quickly as possible, so they don’t turn into cracks. It can actually be illegal to drive with large cracks, and they’re more expensive to repair than small chips.
Secondly, it’s not a good idea to pour boiling water onto a frozen windscreen in the winter. This could cause the glass to crack, worsen any chips or cracks you already have, or even explode. Plan to get up a little earlier before work and warm up your car’s engine before using de-icer and screen wash to get rid of any snow or ice.
Your windscreen wipers can go through a lot during the course of a year, whether it’s icy winters, autumnal sap or incessant springtime rain. Replacing them will get rid of any smearing and squeaking, keeping your windscreen clean and preserving your sanity. You should also clean the inside of your windscreen, using a clean cloth and a proper glass cleaner.